Interview with actors Geffri Maya, Peyton Alex Smith, Sylvester Powell, Cory Hardrict, Kelly Jenrette, Camille Hyde, Mitchell Edwards and Netta Walker, and executive producer Nkechi Okoro Carroll of “All-American: Homecoming” on The CW by Suzanne 1/27/22
This was a really fun panel. These actors really seem to enjoy their work and have a lot of congeniality with their fellow cast and crew. I watch MANY shows on The CW (mostly superheroes). I watched 5 episodes of this new spin-off. It started slowly but started to get better by the end of the third episode. It’s basically a soap opera set in a fictional HBCU, just as the original show is a soap opera set in a high school. That one is mostly about football. This one is about baseball and tennis. I’m sure you’ll recognize a lot of the actors from the first show. However, you can watch this and enjoy it even if you’ve never seen the show from which it’s spun off.
Nkechki (whom they refer to as “NK”) answered the first question from a journalist about what role will HBCU* experiences play in the series. She said Bringston University, where the show is set, is a character itself on the show. Even though it’s not a real institution, it seems real because it’s the “life force of the show” and it’s everything for the students. She also asked whether the show is still about football, and whether there are new characters (besides the ones from the original show). NK answered that show is about tennis and baseball, as well as about “HBCU life in general.” She also took a moment to praise the cast as beautiful and amazing. She can’t wait for us to get to meet the characters of the show because she feels like they’re her friends. She continued on to explain that the cast is mostly new people who represent “”the absolute spectrum of what it is to be young and Black and at an HBCU.”
I then asked her if there was a particular real-life campus that she based Bringston on. She replied, as expected, that it’s “an amalgamation of a few different campuses.” She complimented their production designer as “brilliant” because they sat down and envisioned what they wanted, and then they brought it to life. Viewers who went to an HBCU should recognize the campus as being similar to the campuses in DC, Atlanta and other places. NK confided that she didn’t go to an HBCU, so she wanted to create her own. I asked a followup question about whether she directed her actors to train in tennis and baseball ahead of time, or did they hire actors who already knew how to play. As I’d hoped, she asked the stars Peyton and Geffri to give their two cents. Peyton, whom you may know from “Legacies” on The CW, plays baseball star Damon Sims. Geffri plays tennis star Simone Hicks. I was happy to be in a conversation with Peyton because I was so unhappy when they wrote him out of “Legacies.” Now I see that it was for the best because he’s able to go on to bigger things in this show.
Peyton joked, “Uh, honestly I’m just a natural-born talent in like whatever I do.” There was laughter and NK jokingly said he was going to let him talk. Geffri told us truthfully that she hadn’t ever held a racket until they found out about this backdoor pilot. Once they knew it was going forward, she found a good tennis coach and started working hard on the sport. She said that tennis is “beautiful” and that it takes respect and work with your “full mind, full body and full spirit.” She hopes we can see it and feel it. I assured her that it worked out great from the four episodes I saw.
Peyton then answered more seriously. He used to play but hadn’t played baseball in about 17 years. When they shot the pilot, he was very scared as soon as he got up on the mound, since he was playing “super athlete.” After that, he and Sylvester worked on pitching and batting with a scouting coach with the Atlanta Braves. They did a lot of work not only baseball, but just working out in general as well. Then he flew to Bellingham, Washington to work with the college kids there at Western Washington University. He said he “had no idea that was a place.” Ha ha! I have a friend who teaches there, and I felt the same way when I heard he was moving there. “Where the heck is Bellingham?” Anyway, he said it was great to see the kids in their environment, and it not only helped him with playing but with his acting. He gave an example: “we see how those kids react to the coaches.” He gave baseball props because he discovered that it’s not an easy sports. He used to think it was boring to watch, but now he knows more about it and finds it interesting. NK then praised him for being “so incredibly locked.” I’d never heard that term before, but I assume she means that he’s very focused.
NK then praised Camille. She really nailed the part in her audition, and then she was asked if she played tennis, almost as an afterthought, and she answered with a list of her tennis accomplishments. They were shocked but knew they found the right actress to play Thea. They never have to use her double because Camille is “unbelieveable.” She’s their expert, in fact, if they want to know how they’re portraying tennis correctly.
Camille said that it was lucky for her that she and her character had a lot in common. She never lost a match when she was in high school. She brought some of that “can’t lose” attitude in her acting as well. The mentality includes, “even if we come close to losing and we win, it wasn’t good enough. So you train harder, you work harder and that’s, that’s definitely just scratching the surface of what it means to be a college tennis athlete. Um, there’s never enough serves you can hit in a day. There’s never enough drills you can do in a day. That’s how I was until, you know, my hands are bleeding and the blisters were all popping on my feet, but you know, that’s what it means to be a college athlete.” She says they definitely earned their respect.
The cast was also asked by a journalist about whether they tell people when they go in to audition whether they can play the sport or not. He said he would be worried that someone said he got it wrong if he wasn’t very good at it.
Cory joked, “Fake til you make it.” He was joking, but Geffri confided that she was always told to say yes on auditions when asked if she could play something, and then go practice to make it real. She did say that it “just depends on the person.” Peyton said he’s seen that go wrong before where someone said they could play basketball but had to leave, embarrassed. Mitchell admitted that happened to him. He told the people at the audition that he could play basketball, but he couldn’t. He was terrible. Sylvester jokingly consoled him by reminding him that he’s a football player. Then Geffri joked, “But you know what they said, Mitch? They said, That boy got beautiful skin, though.'” They joked around some more.
Cory added in that you should always tell the truth, get the job, work hard and “keep your faith.”
Geffri admitted that she told them for this part that she can’t play, but she promised to learn. NK confirmed that Geffri did say exactly that. They just hoped that would be enough so that they could do the spin-off. Geffri joked that she would never tell NK no. She jokingly said, “’Are you an astronaut?” Yes. I am going to spacecamp. Yes.'”
A reporter asked how good they think they’ve become. Peyton joked that after the series was over, in about 6 years, he’s going to play professional baseball. Geffri teased that he woudl be going pro in the spinoff of the spinoff.
Geffri then answered seriously that she definitely sees growth in everyone’s playing. She already knew Camille before the series and thinks that she has grown as a person. She thinks, while “there’s always room for improvement” she thinks she’s improved at tennis and will continue to work hard at it because it “requires dedication.” She added that it’s also very fun to play.
NK praised them all for their hard work, which she saw in the many hours of footage that she had to edit for the series. They had very little notice to get in shape for the pilot and learn how to play well. She applauded them for not only their hours of commitment to playing but also acting, learning lines, and showing up for long days of shooting. Also, some of them had to learn to dance. Netta plays Keisha, who’s a dancer and choreographer, so she had to really work hard to “nail the routines we give her,” and Mitchell has to sing as well. She saluted their “bringing excellence, which is the theme of the show.” She felt honored for them to all bring their A games to the series.
Peyton also added that he felt if he worked really hard on the baseball, then it became easier, so then he could focus more on his character and the art of acting.
Another journalist asked about what the characters find out or learn as they go through this time in their lives where a lot of change happens.
Netta talked about playing a college age young person on the show, which she can really relate to because she made a lot of the same mistakes and going through self-discovery. She feels like they’re doing it in a way that’s not filled with bias, which is unusual. Then having the “extra layer of Black excellence on top of it” makes it even more enjoyable. She told us that when you’re at an HBCU, you have to be at your best: “you gotta be on. You can’t slack, edges better be laid, hair better be pressed, outfits better be on top, and everyone’s been doing it for it.” She’s happy to be playing Keisha, who’s the top girl socially at the school.
Cory cracked that Keish is the one they all wanted to be in college; “She’s the “it” girl.” Netta joked back at him that he couldn’t possibly think that way because his face “is perfectly symmetrical”.
Camille added that her face is symmetrical, too, but she credits everything to their stylists, who put together their clothes, hair, makeup, etc. It makes their jobs easier because it “represents us in our community and Black excellence and the hair and you know, how much, you know, young, Black culture, a lot of it is hair. A lot of it is style.” She believes that it will translate well on the screen. Geffri agreed with that and went on at length about HBCU and the black excellence they represent. She feels privileged to show what this life is like to young kids who might be thinking about going to college.
Cory took the opportunity to praise NK for creating this world. He’s happy to be a “positive influence in these young male figures lives, and especially this Black experience.”
NK redirected the praise toward the cast, saying that she capture “lightning in a bottle” with all of them. Meeting Geff, in particular, inspired her to create this world. There was a lot more to this panel, but you get the idea about the show and how much this cast loves each other.
*HBCU refers to historically black colleges and universities, in case you didn’t know. Famous examples include Spelman, Howard and Xavier University.
“ALL AMERICAN: HOMECOMING”
Mondays (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET) on The CW
ALL AMERICAN: HOMECOMING is a young adult sports drama set against the backdrop of the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) experience at Bringston University, where Black excellence is a way of life. The series follows Simone (Geffri Maya, “All American”), a young tennis hopeful from Beverly Hills who is trying to fight her way back to great after some time away from the court, and Damon (Peyton Alex Smith, “Legacies”), an elite baseball player from Chicago who is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. After Simone’s aunt Amara Patterson (Kelly Jenrette, “Manhunt”), a journalism teacher and activist, exposes a scandal that threatens to derail the school’s beloved baseball program, new coach Marcus Turner (Cory Hardrict, “The Chi”) is determined to bring a championship back to Bringston the honest way — with Damon’s help. Damon will adjust to his new normal with fellow baseball player and childhood friend JR (Sylvester Powell, “Five Points”) by his side. Meanwhile, as Simone struggles to find her footing, she will get a little guidance from Thea (Camille Hyde, “Katy Keene”), the super-competitive queen bee of the Bringston tennis team, and Keisha (Netta Walker, “Come as You Are”), the school’s unofficial mayor, who will help Simone learn how to live her best life. As they contend with the high stakes of college sports, Simone and Damon will also navigate the highs, lows, and sexiness of unsupervised early adulthood at a prestigious HBCU.
ALL AMERICAN: HOMECOMING stars Geffri Maya as Simone Hicks, Peyton Alex Smith as Damon Sims, Kelly Jenrette as Amara Patterson, Cory Hardrict as Coach Marcus Turner, Sylvester Powell as JR, Camille Hyde as Thea Mays, Mitchell Edwards as Cam Watkins and Netta Walker as Keisha McCalla.
ALL AMERICAN: HOMECOMING is from Warner Bros. Television and CBS Studios in association with Berlanti Productions, with executive producers Nkechi Okoro Carroll (“Rosewood,” “The Resident”), Greg Berlanti (“Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Riverdale”), Sarah Schechter (“Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Riverdale”), David Madden (“You”) and Robbie Rogers (“All American”).
Proofread and Edited by Brenda